So, I didn’t have a heart attack after all, Part II

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Water taxis to Caye Caulker and Belize City at the ready in San Pedro, Belize.
Water taxis to Caye Caulker and Belize City at the ready in San Pedro, Belize. Those seats on top? The best when the weather is good.

The San Pedro Belize Express water taxi pulled out on time Wednesday, 11 a.m., and pointed its bow toward Belize City — with a stop, of course, at Caye Caulker on the way.

This one had forward facing seats, rather than benches.  Much preferred for the 90 minute ride. Up top on the bridge in the open air would have been even better. Except that on this day a two-person kayak occupied that space.

Last week, when  we took the water taxi, the captain did a U-turn at sea  to pick up some fresh lobsters from a boatman, then dropped off a guy on  Caye Chapel. He was late for his foursome at the country’s only golf course. You never know.

Rose read her Kindle. I did my best to meditate.

Thoughts kept intruding.

The local coastal taxi pulls into the pier at the Cloisters this morning as dark clouds hover on the horizon.
The local coastal taxi pulls into the pier at the Cloisters this morning as dark clouds hover on the horizon. (The view from our deck as I wrote. So damned distracting. And that is NOT a complaint.)

When was the last time I felt the aching pain in my chest and left arm that had set me on this journey? Were the blood pressure pills working yet? What would this cardiologist, Dr. John Gough, find? How were we ever going to find Dr. Gough in Belize City, such a bewildering place yet to me?

It had been nearly two weeks since these ominous chest and arm pains began. Usually when I bicycled, which is nearly every day. Oddly enough, when I did Pilates or yoga, I felt fine. Sometimes the pain showed up when I was merely sitting or sleeping

Disturbing. Confusing.Foreign. Inconclusive. Annoying.

Well, we were on our way to do something about it. I hoped.

Let us pause to appreciate yet another beautiful shore bird frolicking  -- or foraging -- in the water off our deck. Thank you.
Let us pause to appreciate yet another beautiful shore bird frolicking — or foraging — in the water off our deck. Thank you.

We weren’t heading into this blind. Our friends Peter and Leslie Nolan highly recommended Dr. Gough. Over the years, Peter referred many of his insurance clients to Dr. Gough, with stellar results.

The Nolans didn’t stop there. Since we had a late afternoon appointment, making the last boat back to San Pedro seemed unlikely. So they gave us the name of a reasonably priced boutique hotel along with the names of the owners. And a nice place to grab breakfast in the morning.

Peter and Leslie are like that. Extraordinarily generous with the knowledge they have accumulated over the years.  Ask Peter to recommend a repair shop and he will give you the names of two — and the pros and cons of each.

So, I add “grateful” to the previous list (“Disturbing. Confusing. etc.”).

As the  water taxi droned on across the emerald –blues toward Belize City I also expressed gratitude for Rose, quietly reading beside me. Just as she was beside me after I shattered a wrist in seven places and when I struggled with prostate problems for nearly half a year, as no company would insure me.

For years I have been drawn toward her celebration of healthy eating, simple living and exercise — all of which we have found here together. But I guess even Paradise is no substitute for taking personal responsibility for your core health.

I know what you are thinking: What has this image got to do with this post? Your suspicions are correct: Nothing. These guys were offloading produce and dry goods at The Greenhouse on Middle Street in San Pedro.
I know what you are thinking: What has this image got to do with this post? Your suspicions are correct: Nothing. This guy and two co-workers  were offloading produce and dry goods at The Greenhouse on Middle Street in San Pedro.

I tend to let things ride and see where it all takes me. You know: time and good intentions can work through any ailment. Rose tends to remind me, in the nicest of ways, how freaking crazy and irresponsible and, well, yeah, immature that can be.

Honestly, I wonder if I would be alive today without her.

That’s a hell of a thought to have as you pull into the dock in Belize City.

Something about the bustle of Belize City pretty much puts an end to any thoughts. From the moment you step off the boat it is all reaction. People come at you fast, offering rides, trinkets, tours, pot, wisdom, empty hands, crafts, cheerful greetings ….

Like getting a cab. Lots of people call ahead and reserve their favorite cabby.  I didn’t. So we got Martin, a nice young man who hit me up for $15 for the two-mile trip to Dr. Gough’s Buttonwood Bay Medical Center, after crumpling up the $25 parking ticket he found on his window.

I just hate to see cabbies start their day in a deficit position.

The return trip, by comparison, was $7 from a cabby who moments earlier had finished installing a new starter in his car and drove through rush hour traffic like a ghost on wheels. But another deficit position.

Dr. Gough’s sleek, modern three-story medical center is first-rate, as much by First World standards as Third, from the icy cool  lobby with its designer Christmas tree, to the second floor operating theater to the third floor labs and offices.

Impressive.

So is Dr. Gough.

We were more than an hour early but he graciously welcomed us into his third-floor office. In fact, Dr. Gough spent an unhurried two-and-a-half hours in consultation, speaking to Rose (wisely) as much as me.  I didn’t just get a thorough examination; we got a lively and sometimes humorous tutorial into the mechanics and intricacies of the heart and circulatory system.

When Dr. Gough put me through the treadmill stress test, he explained every facet – objectives, expectations, possible outcomes, next steps. He went over every mysterious squib on the printout results with Rose and me until we thoroughly understood. (Bottom line: Strong heart, quick recovery, blockage unlikely.)

He queued up a video of an angiogram and explained how it works, even though that is a distant prospect. We even discussed the prospects for medical tourism in Belize (not that great) as we waited for the return of a series of blood tests Dr. Gough had ordered shortly after we arrived.

What he found in my veins is high cholesterol (271) and triglycerides (282). Way too high.

So, more meds.

But so much better than all the other possibilities.

And this time I’ll behave. I promise.

The cost for this whole experience would make an American hospital administrator blanch: $507 BZ, plus another $100 BZ total for three new medications. That’s a touch over $300 US. (I don’t think you can get a nurse to take your temperature for under $300 in the US these days.)

It turns out, we even made the 4:30 p.m. boat back home.

Your moment of zen. Some of you will recognize this curious Belize City landmark, especially if you know Stephen Thompson. (And, no, Steve is not the curious Belize City landmark!)
Your moment of zen. Some of you will recognize this curious Belize City landmark, especially if you know Stephen Thompson. (And, no, Steve is not the curious Belize City landmark!)

As we sped past blurry green mangrove islands and another brilliant orange-red sunset dressed the sky behind,  I thought back to a mere 24 hours earlier when we were having drinks and munchies at Blue Water Grill‘s bar with Wayne, a semi-retired doctor, and his wife, Marilyn, a food and travel writer.

Wayne waxed nostalgically about the days when doctors had time for real relationships with their patients, when they weren’t strapped to quota systems that required faster clientele turnover than a McDonald’s restaurant. His regret was palpable.

I could imagine Wayne in Dr. Gough’s shoes, as a young doctor proudly explaining his craft, his art and science, to a worried patient; explaining over and over until the fear had been replaced by an assurance, a compact, that doctor and patient would get to the bottom of this together.

It is interesting that I would have to travel all the way to a Third World country to find the kind of medical care that is the stuff of nostalgia back in the States.

So, I guess I dodged a bullet this time. The warning signs were right

Another thing this whole experience has taught me is how much I love living here in Belize with Rose. The prospect that we’d have to give up this life and our friends because I was too dumb to take care of my own health is unthinkable.

So, I didn’t have a heart attack after all, Part 1

 

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13 thoughts on “So, I didn’t have a heart attack after all, Part II

    Brent said:
    November 16, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    mostly glad you are OK:) what great info and what a great country:) see you in a month.
    Brent (and Annie:))

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      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      November 16, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      Ha! Ha! I’ll take “mostly,” Brent! See ya soon!

      Like

    jeffjrose said:
    November 16, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    I’m glad the doctor experience went well, Bob, BUT — the editor in me is nagging about there being a hole in the story. So what caused the pain? It sure sounded like it could be either a minor heart attack or the beginning of a stroke. Cholesterol or triglycerides won’t cause that, those are factors that pose a higher risk of forming a blockage or restriction. Pain in your arm and your chest, and temporary loss of the use of your arm, are not something to ignore.

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      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      November 16, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      True, Jeff! Thanks for that. I’m not ready to put a “happy ending” on it all, nor is Dr. Gough. I’m on a two week regimen of meds to bring down the most troubling markers. Only the first step. You are quite right, but I’m hoping we’re on the right path.

      Like

    brentdoig said:
    November 16, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    so glad you are OK Bob…. and thanks for the info. makes my move feel more better/righter😉

    see you soon….

    Brent

    Sent from Windows Mail

    Like

    Shirley said:
    November 16, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    All I can say is WHEW!!!! Take care of yourself. We can’t wait to see you and your lovely bride again.

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    Marilyn and Wayne said:
    November 16, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    We want you to stay healthy so we can spend more happy hours with you and Rose!

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      November 17, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      Thanks, Marilyn. Looking forward to more happy hours too.

      Like

    Lorenzo Gonzalez said:
    November 28, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Glad you’re ok. Buy a bottle of bitters soaked in green stripe and take a couple shots a week. Belizean remedy… Hehe

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      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      December 3, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      At my favorite produce stand yesterday, Maria gave me three eggplants to peel and boil the skin into a tea …. and also a bag of oregano for a second “tea.” Both good for the heart she says. I’ll have to ask her why shes holding out on the Green Stripe and bitters! Thanks, Lorenzo!

      Like

    Susan Watts said:
    December 3, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Robert, sorry to hear you are having any problems at all, but thankfully it sounds manageable. Haven’t seen any posts from you lately and frankly, I’m a bit worried (even though I detest your politics…but trying to let it go). I hope you and Rose are just busy living life and have had no time to blog. Please know you are in my prayers and I hope all is well.

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      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      December 3, 2014 at 3:38 pm

      Hello, Susan!
      Thank you. I think we can find common ground in the power of prayer. I really appreciate that.
      I plan to resume writing within a week or so. We did have a continuous flow of dear friends and family since early November. My middle son, Ryan, just left yesterday and Rose’s daughter, Caira, arrives on Friday. That is kind of how it has been!
      But beyond that, I have been struggling a bit physically. A visit with my cardiologist today determined that an angiogram is now in order, and maybe a stent or two, most likely this coming Monday. As you can imagine it has been pretty hard to concentrate on much else.
      With this one blighted exception, life here has been even better than we ever imagined. Much to write about! Thank you again for your message and concern.

      Like

    Susan Watts said:
    December 10, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Well Thank GOD! I really was worried, just about to ask other bloggers if they’d heard any news. I try to live by a few old sayings my mom taught me. “If you’re born to hang, you’ll never drown.” “Live for today, tomorrow you may die” (yea that one’s a bit morbid) and finally “Man plans and God laughs”, I always pray God isn’t laughing at my plans…Will keep you in my prayers and hopefully one day we’ll see each other on the Caye! God willing…

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